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DeChristopher: One Year Inside

Author: Guest Writer/Thursday, July 26, 2012/Categories: Uncategorized

Lawyer, reverend tell of his plans: chop vegetables, become a minister

By Reilly Capps 

Monkeywrencher Tim DeChristopher lives in a prison in a Denver suburb now, working five hours a day in the kitchen chopping potatoes, carrots and celery, paying attention to fruits and vegetables, and which are locally grown. The food in Colorado isn't as good as it was in California, where he used to incarcerated, but kitchen duty lets him eat better than he might have otherwise. 

"I think he'll make a hell of an omelet when he gets out," said his lawyer, Pat Shea, who saw him two weeks ago. 

Three p.m. today marks one year since DeChristopher was searched, his pockets turned inside out, and led into a van, in handcuffs, and taken to prison. He was sentenced to two years, but the last official word was that he is to be released to house arrest in February 2013, Shea said. 

Why's he in jail? In the final days of the Bush Administration, DeChristopher bid on $1.7 million worth of rights to drill for oil and gas in Utah, even though he had pennies in his bank account. The move gave the Obama administration time to reverse the Bush decision, preventing drilling. DeChristopher has become a hero and a symbol to the environmental movement. 

Shea said DeChristopher is looking better. He's lost the "beady-eyed look" he had when he was unjustly thrown in solitary confinement (put there, apparently, because of what he said in a letter to friends). "When you see prisoners with that look in their eyes, they're at the breaking point," Shea said. Now, "He's got his smile and demeanor back," Shea said. "He was back in swinging mode. He was ready to hit the ground running."

He's got his swagger back.  

These days, along with working as a cook, DeChristopher is studying for the graduate exams. He wants to go to Harvard in the fall of 2013 to study divinity and become a Unitarian Minister, says Rev. Tom Goldsmith of DeChristopher's church in Salt Lake, who talked to him by phone last Saturday. 

"He seemed very upbeat," said Goldsmith, excited about the prospect of applying to Harvard. (Goldsmith graduated from the divinity school.) "My hunch is that it's not that hard to find study time." 

Goldsmith didn't think DeChristopher was writing a book, as some have said, but was reading intensely, books such as "Searching for God in the Sixties." I've known DeChristopher to be intensely interested in the sources of strength and motivation for sixties activists. He knows that the environmental movement lacks a strong power source. And I think the title of Reverend, and the power of God -- or the Unitarian version thereof -- could help power whatever crusade he decides to lead when he gets out. 

Goldsmith agrees. 

"He's a great speaker. He's deep, spiritually. He's a natural leader," Goldsmith said. "I think he's going to be a really good minister. He might be the William Sloane Coffin of his generation. He could be that powerful."

(Coffin was the former Yale chaplain who used civil disobedience to fight for civil and gay rights, and against the wars in Vietnam and Iraq.)

To mark the exact moment when DeChristopher was led away, activists in Salt Lake City are holding a protest.

Said Shea: "It's hard to believe that a year has gone by since Judge Benson, in his hallowed dignity, said, Take him away forthwith.'"

Shea was apparently using the traditional phrase "hallowed dignity," meaning worthy of reverence. But I could have sworn he slurred "hallowed" into "hollow," meaning empty. Maybe I misheard. But he said it twice. Both times I heard: "Judge Benson's hollow dignity." 

It was strange to hear that from Shea. But, then again, Shea says he's a different man from the one who started the defense of DeChristopher. He's angrier, more radical. He's incredulous that the government has been willing to spend so much time and energy to get DeChristopher -- he estimates that the court case and incarceration has cost the government $150,000 to $200,000 so far. 

The saga of Tim DeChristopher has radicalized this lawyer more than ever, and this is not a man who comes from a radical background. 

An Irish Catholic and a Rhodes Scholar, he ran for governor and Senator in Utah. In 1997 he became head of the Bureau of Land Management, the authority that ran the auction DeChristopher disrupted. Now that he's defending DeChristopher's actions against the BLM … he's done a 360. Nowadays, he sounds more radical than an Occupy Wall Streeter.

"The dedication that the American government, at the federal level, to promote the use of fossil fuels, is astounding," he said. There are a lot of individual people in the government who'd like to stop promoting fossil fuels, he said. But "because of Citizen's United (the court case that allows unlimited corporate contributions) and the flood of cash into the political marketplace, they're not able to do anything about that. 

"We're having a debate driven by what's best for TV, not what's best for the American people," he said.  


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